‘We are all on display, and we are all complicit’

By Małgorzata Piechowicz-Pietruszka

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Should you agree with the above statement, this article is probably not for you. However, if you are of an opinion that perhaps you have nothing to hide but you also have nothing that you would like to show, read on because you probably value your privacy like I value mine. And I am definitely not the only one who has become deeply concerned about the fact that this basic human right, that for centuries seemed obvious and natural, is being systematically compromised, often involuntarily, by our dependency on technology, especially the Internet.

We all know the big names of the Big Data companies as well as we all know that our personal data is no longer personal, as it is being managed, stored and sold. But what we are not being told of, or if so, it is done very vaguely, is how it is managed and stored and to whom it is being sold. Personalized marketing is something everyone is pretty much aware of nowadays, yet how much our digital lives are in fact worth is still kept a secret.

Confusion is probably the most accurate description of our current state of mind regarding privacy, both digital and real-life as the two have long started to merge, creating dilemmas we would have had trouble imagining even ten years ago.

So, if you feel, like me, that the topic of privacy should become one of the most crucial of our times but instead is being relentlessly neglected, you should welcome Net Privacy by Sacha Molitorisz with open arms and a relieved mind. At last there is a book that meticulously unveils the foggy meanders of the internet law, or to be brutally honest in most cases, the lack of it. The author, a researcher whose field of expertise is ethics, law and the media at the University of Technology Sydney, is an advocate of an ethical and regulatory framework applied to ‘ever changing technology’. Molitorisz soberly states the fact that privacy is threatened by digital technology: cookies, spyware, shadow profiles, loyalty cards and data brokers are just a few examples of instruments in the booming information economy that has been called ‘new oil’.
“In its early days, the net was encoded to promote connection, openness and connectivity. More recently, however, the dominant motives include profit, control and manipulation. But since day one, privacy has tended to be an afterthought.”

What is more important though is that the ethic also gives us a little hope that not everything is lost yet, and we do not have to accept what Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems CEO, famously said over 20 years ago, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it”. In the world where even the governments are facing the conundrum of how to better control and increase transparency over the digital tech giants, yet not to suppress the potential of Big Data to enhance lives, the author seems to present sensible guidance for fair regulation and law intervention. The book builds an ethical prescription, a much needed sketch of an outline of law that best protects the privacy of individuals, and should definitely be read and applied by lawmakers, regulators and scholars.

Ultimately, privacy is our fundamental human right.

“Without privacy, we cannot be free to think, act and express ourselves fully. Without privacy, we cannot befriend or love, given that any closest relationships are founded on trust, forged in part by keeping one another’s confidences and secrets”.
Let’s not give up on our privacy.